Using natural non wovens generally means sourcing sheet material. Mainly because it is very difficult to compress or tangle the non wovens into a uniform material without the use if industrial machines. And since we are past the age of injection moulding and on the edge of a digital printable material, sheet material seems well, a bit “flat”. So in the design we need to express this “flatness” to our advantage. And “flat” material is used in conventional footwear so to use these natural materials as leather shoes are made seems inappropriate. So carrying on from the hollow heel/sole of the previous felt shoes in which the flat material becomes the structure seems right.
over lasted felt with hollow sole, the lasting is the structure photo: Panos Damaskinidis
As designers we often work intuitively and then later analyse why we have done something a certain way. I still can not clearly put into words why this hollow structure is intriguing. It has something to do do with the decorative upper becoming the structure of the heel. It is about simplicity maybe not in construction but to the eye and mind. And I guess that is what we do as designers. We are the bridge between the engineering and people to hopefully make poetic artefacts.
So evolving on there are some practical concerns about using various non wovens. Some are rough next to the skin so came the idea of using a felt sock or bootie which is resined on the sole to form the insole structure. Then side walls are over lasted and wrapped around, undercut under the insole area to form a ledge that the bootie rest on. The bootie is slipped in to this “over lasted shell”.
…explode view felt sock centre with resined sole and moulded sides with ledge that the resin sole sit on.
hemp sides, insert sock resined, sits on feather line ledge
Crude but a germ of an idea worth exploring. Now to make something more beautiful. I would need to create some moulds. At this point it is only an idea. I needed help. Darren Murphy footwear designer and technical tutor was amazing. He had millinnary experience. See I didn’t even realize this is what I was doing or needed to help move on the process. I needed steam to mould the felt around the last and the form (heel). But that is not where it stops – Ian the technician was very hands on the help which was crucial as I am inexperienced in the key fit points of footwear. Then there was both Elain and George in the closing room who when Mark the pattern cutting tutor suggested a stroble sewing machine and none was to be found in the college, Elain showed me an old overlocking Singer which could do the job.
leather attached to last for heel mould
cork and neoprene on last to be shaped down
last and heel mould
So the central back seam was done with the over locking Singer then the “cone” was steamed and moulded around the base
felt "cones" with one central back seam
Felt "cones", last and mould, steamer
felt steamed and stapled into place
then the punched insole (which had holes planned according to pressure) was sewn in by hand with a curved needle.
insole stitched into moulded felt
masked shoes ready to be resined
tumbling along with exploring materials can be really unnerving to me. If you have a vision of what the thing will look like you have a goal. Working from the inside out means you have no bloody idea how the thing will look…and this is fashion! So armed with the knowledge of what the materials can do I know we had to sprinkle a little magic into the mix. So the wouldn’t it be cool thoughts start to creep in….
A solid chunk of felt layered up and soaked in resin is no better than a lump of solid plastic. There seemed to be a lot of strength in the curved felt reminding me of how steel tubes can be as strong as rods. In addition the resin acts like a wood glue where the join can be as strong as the actual material.
So sprinkle the magic and wouldn’t it be great if the shoe was a big tube and the insole was attached inside seamlessly?????
crude initial "tube" mocks
only insole no sole
court shoe fit
first attempt at resining the tube
Something was bugging me about “mimicking” a footwear construction meant for one material when using another. The construction methods used for footwear today have evolved from three areas…
1. the foot
2. the material mainly leather or a leather “sock” covered with fabric
3. the tools and machines to form the leather around the last
But if we look at the properties of the felt material it can stretch, mould and absorb. Wool absorbs unlike leather or fabric. Wool is made up of keratins, which on a micro level are little tubes. The hollow part of these tubes are called medulla. The Medulla gives the wool it’s thermal properties. But it also allows for the tube to be filled with a hardening material. We chose resin, when in liquid state is absorbed into the tubes and then hardens. But if the fibers laid in a neat orderly way the material could suffer from being brittle. Wool fibers are “tangled” together in the creation of felt. This tangling creates an elasticity meaning a resin soaked and dried piece of felt is hard and NOT brittle.
tangled wool fibers in felt
medullapart soft untreated felt and part resin soaked felt with sanded corner
part soft untreated felt and part resin soaked felt with sanded corner
Originally felt was chosen from a range of potential materials because it was…
- moulds to the foot as worn – ie. “fuzzy” mass customization through the material as opposed to high tooling/labour cost of bespoke fit of a hard sole shoe
felt moccasin construction test
One the material was received an exploration of properties and characteristics testing need to be done. At first I was recreating shoe constructions based on leather sheet materials mainly moccasins.
Industrial 100% wool felt was sourced from the high quality company Damier Filtz in Germany. The quality of the felt is far superior. The company has an understanding and sensitivity not only to the production of the felt but also to the application of the material in innovative designs. The colours are stunning but for my applications I needed to use smaller quantities of stock 5mm felt.
Damier Filtz shade card